Rebels kill at least 15 people in Iraq
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Rebels kill at least 15 people in Iraq

Rebels also attacked a British diplomatic convoy, as Iraq took steps toward taking over operational military command from US-led coalition forces.

india Updated: Aug 31, 2006 19:10 IST

Iraqi insurgents killed at least 15 people on Thursday and attacked a British diplomatic convoy, as Iraq took steps toward taking over operational military command from US-led coalition forces.

A recent surge in violence has left nearly 200 people dead since Sunday, undermined a security crackdown in Baghdad and challenged Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki's moves to reconcile warring Shiite and Sunni factions.

On Thursday, another spate of attacks were reported in Baghdad and in the ethnically-mixed flashpoint city of Baquba, in an area north of the capital which is disputed by rival death squads.

Even as the brutal violence stretched hard-pressed security forces, Iraq prepared to activate a joint military headquarters to command Iraq's navy, air force and ten army divisions, totalling 115,000 troops.

A statement from the Iraqi defence ministry said that military leaders would meet their American and coalition counterparts to announce an agreement "on the control of strategic and combat operations".

US military officials confirmed that Saturday's announcement would represent the creation of a joint headquarters.

Iraq's armed forces are currently coordinated by US headquarters under the command of General George Casey, the head of US-led coalition troops in Iraq, who said Wednesday it would be at least a year until US troops could leave.

On Monday, US military spokesman Major General William Caldwell, said of the agreement: "What this means is that the Iraqi Ministry of Defence is prepared to begin assuming direct operational control over Iraq's armed forces.

"This is a significant step in Iraq's path to self-reliance and security," he said, explaining that the chain of command would pass from Maliki, through his defence minister to the joint headquarters.

US President George W. Bush, meanwhile, on Wednesday said that exiting Iraq at this stage would be a "major defeat."

"If we leave before the job is done, it will shred the credibility of the United States of America," Bush warned at a political fundraiser in Nashville.

Four people were shot dead in various neighbourhoods of Baghdad, while two civilians were killed when a car bomb exploded in the midst of dozens of cars waiting outside a gas station, security officials said.

A number of insurgent attacks also wounded more than a dozen people in the capital, six of them children who were hurt when rebels slammed a mortar round into the southern Al-Maalif neighbourhood.

Police from the Diyala province, of which Baquba is the capital, said that at least nine people were killed in the province Thursday.

In one of the attacks, gunmen stormed a shop in western Baquba's Yarmuk neighbourhood and shot dead two brothers who owned the shop, police said.

On Thursday a British diplomatic convoy came under attack in Baghdad's upscale Mansur district but no one on board was hurt, officials said.

"An incident occurred this morning involving British embassy personnel travelling outside the International Zone," a British embassy spokesman said.

Iraqi security forces are a regular target of insurgents who bomb army and police recruitment centres to stop young men from joining the forces.

The bombing was yet another setback to plans by the US-led coalition to build Iraqi security forces capable of taking on the raging insurgency and sectarian violence that has ravaged the country.

Iraq's ongoing bloodletting has also hit the US military, with 15 of its servicemen killed since Sunday, mainly in roadside bomb attacks.

First Published: Aug 31, 2006 19:10 IST